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Blue All Over

At Saratoga County’s Winney Farm, it’s all about blueberries—40 acres and 21 varieties of them

by Amy Halloran on August 1, 2013

 

“Here’s a dragonfly for you, come see,” a grandmother called to her granddaughter in Schuylerville at the Winney Farm. The family was picking blueberries on a bright Wednesday morning. The sun was hot but not blistering, and the bushes, lined in rows 800 or 500 feet long, were full of berries, many big and blue, some pink and purpling, and even a few green ones ready to come along.

Blueberries and July go hand and hand. Even though the month is now done, the blueberries are around for a little longer. You can pick your own or buy from the stand at this farm every day for another two weeks, and on the weekends through the rest of August, too.

Winney Farm is all blueberries. Forty thousand plants sit on 40 acres, and Byron Winney doesn’t grow anything else.

Byron Winney photographed by Amy Halloran

“I could plant another 10 acres, but I’m holding back, keeping things steady,” he says, walking past rows with posts named Brigitta, Legacy, Blue Crop, Blue Ray, Blue Jay.

The expansion he’s making is in varieties that will extend the growing season through early September. An acre of a variety called Aurora will be ready to harvest in a few years. The plants are now two years old, and every single flower was removed to prevent fruiting and promote stem growth.

These plants, like everything else at his farm, are from Hartmann’s in Michigan, a nursery he highly recommends.

“They’ll take a plant that’s known to produce a lot of berries and is disease free,” says Winney. “You may save money by getting a cheaper plant, but it won’t yield.”

Every fall, the owner of Hartman’s calls Winney, and even if he isn’t buying, he might be by the end of the call. All the blueberries on this farm come from this nursery. The first were planted in 1973, and plants that went in the following year, Blue Crop and Blue Ray, are still producing heavily.

“They say a blueberry will last 75 to 100 years if you keep it pruned,” says Winney.

Most plants here get an aggressive pruning in the fall every three years. While spring pruning is sometimes advised for fruit bearing trees and shrubs, Winney finds that in general, the plants don’t mind fall pruning. A new type, Legacy, however, is such a vigorous grower that he wouldn’t prune it in the fall, for fear it would confuse the plant into growing harder just as winter came on.

His family has a long history in farming, going back to the 1600s. This farm has a history in flowers, starting in the 1930s.

“We raised gladiolas for the wholesale market in Vermont, New York and Massachusetts,” he says. The flowers supplied the Capital Region up to Fort Ticonderoga until the ’60s, when the flower market, which was largely for big weddings and funerals, changed.

“A lot of florists, instead of buying glads, which are a luxury flower, decided to grow their own pompoms,” says Winney. Nevertheless, he put himself through college on money he earned from a four-acre plot of gladiolas. He studied social studies at New Paltz, and later went to Siena and got a teaching degree. Instead of teaching, however, he worked for the power company for 30 years.

All the while he was growing blueberries. In 1973, he and his twin brother took five acres that were set it aside for vegetable production—the farm also grew vegetables that sold in Glens Falls and north—and soured the soil with 1,000 pounds of sulphur per acre to ready it for blueberry plants, which like slightly acidic soil. The first crop didn’t come for four years, and those five acres were the sum of the operation for 15 years.

Gradually, he added more acreage and plants. Now there are 21 varieties. At any given time you can select from 17 different ripe ones, but that would take a lot of walking to get to them all. And to taste the difference is a challenge, too. One of Winney’s favorites is Brigitta.

“How do you like those berries?” he asks a customer holding a bucket who has just come out of rows of Legacy.

“Very sweet,” the man says. “I think they’re the best.”

When asked what he plans to do with the couple of quarts he has, he says he will eat them with yogurt.

“Or you can always give them to your grandkids,” he says, happy to have a small haul.